I actually like this one quite a bit. The title even helps a bit - although Botany Class in the Mist or Deborah Gets Kissed in the Catholic Orphanage would have been more descriptive. Deborah is a dandy heroine, plucky and perhaps a teeny weeny passive aggressive("me, me, me also..."). My biggest problem with Stars Through the Mist is the bit about being lost (then found) on the moors...which is such a fabulous set-up for declarations of undying whatchamacallit...and then it simply fizzles. Why Betty? Why? I'm willing to give TGB a pass though - her finale in the orphanage more than makes up for the previous stalling.
I wasn't crazy about last week's hero because he's a suave man-of-the-world who, after sustaining a Youthful Disappointment and without really understanding his future wife at all, plonks a bloodless offer of marriage before a girl who loves him and then practically ruins her life. And, oh my heck, that's exactly the set-up for Stars Through the Mist. And I really liked it.
|Somebody get a chapel and a choir to sing...!|
On the strength of his assumptions, he follows her into her office at the ragged end of one very trying day and asks her as baldly as possible: How do you feel about marrying me?
Deborah must restrain the impulse to throw herself across the blotter (never mind the off-duty and the laundry rota) and grab at his lapels shouting ecstatically, 'Yes, yes, yes!!! A thousand times yes!', dancing off waving her nurses' cap and singing with glee,'Somebody's getting married!'
She has been in love with this man since the moment he asked her to hand him his first Langenbeck retractors more than two years ago and no amount of chatting up by eager young housemen is going to change that.
So, here we are. Gerard, laboring under the false premise that her single status is because of her cold-fishyness and inner reserve, proposes a partnership. (The job description is your standard MOC contract deal: No implied conjugal relations, no pledges of mutual affection, run the home, entertain the guests, pour the tea, weather ill-temper, consent to treatment that the authentic Chippendale davenport wouldn't put up with, etc.) He proposes because she feels safely encased in ice (as he is) and never guesses that her reserve is so absolute because for the last two years it's been quite a job stemming the tide of her nigh on uncontrollable passion..
|I'd rather be miserable with|
you than without you...
'Did you love your wife?'
He said with a bitter little sneer which hurt her, 'All women are curious...'
'Well, I'm not all women...and I'm not in the least curious...but it's something I should have to know.'
He doesn't volunteer much but Sasja, it seems, was a mistake.
That's good enough for Deborah. She consents to an elopement (Well, what else do you call getting married without friends or family and sneaking your wedding hat on in the car in case anyone should see?) and then they're speeding their repressed way down to her parent's home.
But just when you're grabbing the hankies and wondering how this will manage to avoid becoming theThornbirds they're chatting about room assignments and willing to toss for the dubious honor of faking a migraine on their wedding night in case Mama Culpeper wants to bunk them together.
And then we're off to Holland where, if we read the subtext right, Gerard still doesn't love his wife. The evidence, Mr. Prosecutor, if you please:
- No Home Tour of Love--and worse, her new mother-in-law takes her on the tour instead of an anonymous, if well-loved, family retainer who will promptly forget the Master's carelessness.
- Gerard makes no mention of finding someone to give her Dutch lessons. Sure, she rings up the ubiquitous Professor Wit but Gerard neither knows nor cares. I know he gives her a car but in Neels a car might simply mean, 'You may run your own errands.'
- Despite making her skin crawl, Gerard's cousin Claude van Trapp is allowed to run tame at her home.
The middle of the book then becomes a character study about how well Deborah manages to hold up under the grim conditions--her husband neither acknowledging her efforts (but then, the point is that he shouldn't see any effort) nor conceding an inch of hard-won independence. She exhibits determined resoluteness to ignore that ravishing woman he was seen driving with, hurt and wonder (how was she to know he liked children?) that his relationship with her little sister, Maureen, should be so natural, sudden uplifts of hope when he meets her at the ferry just so she won't have to drive home in a torrent, all that trying to learn his language and make friends with his friends, plunging despair when (in the wake of a tractor accident) he calls her strapping, and full of strength and common sense...
And just as you're at your wits end with these two crazy kids, Claude the Debaucher of Young Maidens waltzes back in through the sadly not dead-bolted door in the garden. (And thank heavens he does or this balloon would have had a short and unhappy flight.) He sees her trying on a wickedly expensive Gina FratiniFratini!) and she doesn't struggle as mightily as she might otherwise because, after all, she was wearing a Gina Fratini. But she does slap him. But Gerard, walking in unexpectedly, isn't of a mind to praise her heroics. He only saw the non-struggling and when he dresses her down for being apparently willing, he deserves her scorn. 'I bought this dress because you told me to and I've charged it to you--it's a model and it cost over a thousand gulden, and I'm glad! I wish it had cost twice as much!'
|Deborah could have really used a handy|
guide to inter-religious Dutch conflicts
Gerard finds out that she's gone every week but doesn't know where. 'Where do you go Thursday evenings?' he asks. But he hasn't earned the right to ask and he knows it, so accepts her refusal to tell.
She is in a lorry accident and he's aghast she thinks he doesn't care two straws about what happens to her. But now he wants to make headway and invites Deborah see his consulting rooms wherein he has a hot, nubile secretary. (Hmm, thinks Betty Keira, puckering her brow. If she's not on her way out and already sporting an engagement ring, then what is she doing in Neelsdom?) It seems as though Claude the Debaucher of Young Maidens has finally found a girl willing to ruin her reputation in Nice (French for Brighton). But Gerard walks in, assumes the worst (that his wife as arranged to snog his cousin at his place of business), clocks Claude and makes some wild accusations.
Finally the secretary, on the way out the door with her lover, fesses up to Gerard. (How does that conversation with the boss go, I wonder? Mr. van Doorninck, I just don't like my retirement pension plan here and the dental plan isn't that good...so I'm running away to live in sin with your sleazy cousin.) But it's too late to apologize. Gerard returns to his house to find that Deborah has packed her bags. She's going to Scotland.
In Scotland there is mist, St. Julian's botany class, and Gerard and stars. (I would go on about this sometimes adorable interlude but I'm annoyed that Deborah and Gerard resolve nothing (nor does she extract a serious enough abasement and apology) while there.)
They return to Holland together and it looks like ruts will be stuck in but one day he finds her at the orphanage and catches her mid-game when her back it turned. They sort themselves out amidst the clamor of young children. He is agreeably ecumenical...
Rating: I loved the beginning. Deborah is a near-tragic figure, swathed in a mask from head to toe, hiding her love away from a man whose first name she doesn't even know. (High drama, Betty!)
The middle wasn't as good as its early promise, lingering too long on the placid day-to-day of life as a neglected wife in Holland but, then, that's sort of the point. Nothing ever happens to Gerard because Gerard doesn't let it happen and so Deborah's plan of action is to insinuate herself rather than bust molds and shatter calm. The altercations regarding Claude van Trapp don't have quite enough set-up for me and I think Betty might have siphoned off some of her talk about tea and jewelry to give to him. But then, he's a quite tantalizing character with lurid passions (spiriting off a young secretary to the French equivalent of Brighton--though, honestly, isn't the entire country just a great big Brighton?), fierce jealousy, and real meanness.
By the end, La Neels gives us a great walloping finish--the image of them embracing in a mass of orphans, young children of the kind that Gerard would have denied them both, is darling.
I give this a Boeuf en Croute.
Food: By agreeing to marry him, Deborah trades cold beef, salad and rice pudding for Supreme de Turbot Mogador. (Turbot is a kind of flat fish and I leave it to you to determine if her trade was a trade up or a mixed bag.)
Fashion: Hospital masks which are symbolic. A pinafore dress (you know my thoughts on these) in green ribbed silk. Her wedding outfit is a pale blue dress and jacket with a wisp of a hat she doesn't put on until she's in the car so her friends can't see. In Holland she wears a pink silk jersey and a soft lavender chiffon with a plunging neckline discretely hidden by frills Rescuing the farmer she ruins a tweed outfit a replaces it with a white silk, long-sleeved, pin-tucked Gina Fratini number that cost the earth.